Story by Tom Pagliaroli

Meat wagon fishing.

Such is the scene along the rails of party boats, and the gunwales of private vessels and charter floats dropping clam baits to the rock piles, wrecks, reefs and any patch of bottom structure. These are surrendering sea bass and ling in eye-popping numbers along with decent counts of heavyweight “snowshoe” winter flounder, and the occasional keeper cod and pollock to 8-pounds.

Photo by Tom P

Indeed, there is no better time than from when you’re reading this through June 22, the last day of the segmented sea bass season, to hop on a vessel and get in on the drop ‘n reel fishing and the post trip tongue-slap-yer-brains-out dinners and fried fish sandwiches.

The bewiskered and soft-bellied ling (technically a red hake but aka “sewer trout” and “Brooklyn brown”) is really causing a stir, as its numbers seem to have rebounded to levels not experienced in five years or more, plus the population is spread out over wide areas, allowing greater angler access to this scrumptious meal-maker.

Photo by Tom P

The best part: no minimum length or possession limits. With fish in the 1 to 4-lb. range, the meat can pile quickly. The worst part: red hake does not freeze well, even if vacuum sealed. At best, the latter, when frozen, will give you a week before the flesh morphs to slurry consistency once thawed. So: fry, bake or broil your red hake take the same evening or a day or two from capture.

Sea bass are another matter. They freeze well and will provide fantastic meals for months in the future. The limit is 10 at a 12.5-inch minimum, and the season closes June 22. It will re-open July 1, and the possession limit will plummet to a scant two.

While the majority of the keeper sea bass being swung are in the 12.5 to 16 inch range, there are are plenty in the 3 to 5-pound class that are thumping the decks. Although fresh or salted clam, live killies (minnies), and Fishbites Clam Chunks are putting fish on ice, the bigger, more aggressive sea bass are whacking metal jigs such as the AVA 27 and 47, and the Run Off Lures Sand Eel or Hammered Jig.

Photo by Tom P

Winter flounder continue to surprise.  Although the daily limit is only a pair, a couple of flatties weighing 2 to 5-pounds makes for some thick fillets and great eating. From this corner, the flesh is much more flavorful than its summer flounder kin. Fresh clam is the jam for the winter flatfish.

Cod and pollock are an equally toothsome bonus. They’ll glom clam and will also wallop the aforementioned metals. However, we prefer to show ‘m some tail on the AVAs in the form of a glow, chartreuse or yellow tube.

The minimum length for cod is 21-inches, and 19-inches for the pollock. No possession limit for either.

In the 105.7 The Hawk listening area, the following party boats will put you on the fish: the Paramount (Brielle; 732-528-2117), the Dauntless (Pt. Pleasant; 732-892-4298) and, through June 22 only, before turning to fluke, the Carolyn Ann III (Barnegat Light; 609-693-4281).